Left Behind: How Small Objects Become Big Problems

When someone leaves the hospital after undergoing major surgery, they hopefully feel better than they did when they came in! Though the road to recovery can be slow, many people emerge from surgery feeling happier and healthier, with positive memories of skilled surgeons, caring doctors, and supportive loved ones.

Sometimes, though, a patient ends up bringing something else home with them—medical equipment left inside their bodies during their procedure!

Objects Left Behind

If you watch medical dramas, you know that there are many tools used during a procedure. Surgeons and their teams rely on dozens of objects to get the job done in a sterile, safe, and efficient manner. But when such objects are left in a patient’s body, they can cause harm to the person they are supposed to help.

The items most commonly left in a patient’s body during surgery include:

  • Sponges
  • Scalpels
  • Scissors
  • Surgical masks or gloves
  • Forceps
  • Guide wires
  • Needles
  • Clamps

How Does That Happen?!

It might seem hard to believe that a surgeon could leave an object inside a patient. However, considering the dozens of small objects, the stress and fast pace of a surgery, and the complications that can quickly arise during a procedure, it makes sense that a small error could lead to such a serious complication. Errors are often the result of miscommunication or human error—a technician fails to properly log all the sponges used during surgery, for example. They are also  often a result of the high levels of exhaustion and stress that plague many medical professionals.

In most cases of objects left behind during surgery, it is the result of an unintentional human error. That doesn’t mean, though, that these types of errors aren’t without serious consequences—or that they aren’t examples of medical malpractice.

Determining Medical Malpractice for Surgical Complications

Left behind objects can lead to many complications, such as:

  • Infections
  • Obstructions that block the flow of blood in the body
  • Punctures and perforations from sharp objects that cut into organs or other internal body parts

Additionally, the patient might require additional surgery to remove the object, which can expose them to unnecessary risks. For someone who is already recovering, having to undergo another procedure can be a stressful and dangerous event.

When a patient suffers unnecessary harm as a result of a surgical error, it may be medical malpractice. When attending to a patient, a medical professional must meet the standard of care. This means that they must behave in the responsible, competent manner expected of someone with their skills and background. Since making the careless mistake of leaving behind a surgical instrument is not something that is expected of an experience surgeon, it could potentially be medical malpractice.

A Local Example

To see what happens when a surgeon leaves something behind, look no further than a case that recently unfolded at a local hospital. The patient, a baby with a rare heart condition, required emergency surgery after her birth. After her surgery, hospital staff noticed that one of their surgical needles was missing, but failed to report the issue. It wasn’t until weeks later at a follow-up appointment that another doctor noticed the needle in the girl’s heart. The needle was later quickly discovered and removed during a later, unrelated surgery at a different hospital.

The hospital eventually agreed to pay the baby an annual compensation once she turns 18. Though she will likely require additional surgery due to her heart condition, she did not experience any lasting complications from the needle. The incident has placed increased scrutiny on the hospital, which broke Florida law by failing to report serious medical errors to the state, according to a report by the Agency for Health Care Administration.

While this local case thankfully ended without any lasting complications, it still shines a light on the dangers of simple errors. It shows that errors can occur even at respectable hospitals with distinguished, experienced doctors. It’s just another reminder that during an important medical procedure, every little thing can make a huge difference.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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